There should be absolutely no surprise that the Albuquerque City Council is now considering increasing the city’s gross receipts tax.
(See February 17, 2018 Albuquerque Journal, “City Council to consider tax hike; Councilors say city facing budget shortfall, needs more officers)
The tax that is being proposed is three eights of a cent and could potentially raise $22 million and upwards of $55 million.
The City Council also has the option to increase property taxes if it wanted to, but that would probably be way to controversial to the voting public.
Mayor Tim Keller is due to announce his first budget on April 1, 2018 which will then be enacted by the city council effective July 1, 2018 after city council budget hearing.
For the last eight (8) years, the City Council Republicans Trudy Jones, Brad Winter, Dan Lewis and Don Harris, strongly resisted raising the gross receipts tax at all costs despite the effect that budget cuts were having a severe impact on essential services and a disastrous effect on public safety.
All of a sudden Republican City Councilor Trudy Jones has “seen the light”, or perhaps the “deficit red”, and is not only supportive of the gross receipts tax increase but is cosponsoring the tax increase with City Council President Ken Sanchez.
Jones is probably supporting the tax because she knows she is not running for re election next year and no longer has to tow the Republican party line.
The city has lost $25 million in revenue due to the loss of the states “hold harmless” agreement enacted to reimburse the city for loss of gross receipts revenues with the repeal of gross receipts on food by the legislature.
The former Mayor expressed support of the legislature’s repeal of the gross receipts tax on food when he lobbied for it in Santa Fe to the detriment of city finances and revenues.
The gross receipts tax is a very regressive tax that hurts the poor and has a chilling effect on economic development.
Notwithstanding the regressive nature, gross receipts tax revenues is the major source of revenues to the city and no one wants property taxes increased or a city income tax enacted.
THEY KNEW IT WAS COMING FOR SOME TIME
Back in December, 2017, it was reported that the city was facing a $6 million-dollar short fall this fiscal year that would have to be made up somehow.
Among the contributing factors for the $6 million deficit was the the Albuquerque Police Department exceeding its overtime budget by $4 million by going from $9 million to $13 million and the excessive judgements paid out in APD deadly use of force cases such as the $5 million settlement paid in the Mary Hawkes case.
Further, it was reported that the city was facing a whopping $40 million-dollar budget short fall the city will be dealing with next fiscal year.
(See December 19, 2017 Albuquerque Journal “Mayor: APD still a priority despite projected deficit).
The $40 million dollars deficit does not include the $69 million dollars that will have to be found to complete the ART Bus project if the Federal Grant is not approved and congress does not appropriate the money.
At least $20 million will have to be found for ART in that the congressional committees have already cut the project by that amount.
The fiscal and budget policy of the last eight (8) years of cut city services and downsizing government has now run its course and there is not much more that can be cut, let alone savings that can be found.
It is going to take a lot more than just raising permit fees, licensing fees, golf fees, parking fees, entrance fees and bus fares to make up a $40 million deficit.
Back in December, Mayor Keller held a press conference at which time he said:
“Because we have a deficit situation, we are really going to have to focus on prioritizing what is important this year for our city. … A piece of that is also understanding we’ve got to find ways to step up for our officers, and we also have to prioritize job creation and keep our kids at the forefront of the budget process this year.”
Asked during his press conference in December if a tax increases would be required, Keller said:
“I certainly hope not, and I can’t imagine that at the end of the day, given what we want to prioritize, that is going to happen. The tougher question is how do we actually get more officers on the streets, and we’re going to be working with our police chief and the City Council to find a way to do that.”
Well Mayor Keller you need to start imagining a tax increase without a public vote and get behind it if public safety is in fact your priority.
And while your at it, please act boldly and propose a full quarter cent “public safety” tax to be enacted by the City Council along with the creation of a Department of Public Safety that is fully funded and staffed with the consolidation of the police department, fire department, 911 emergency dispatch center as well as the emergency operations center.
Currently, the Albuquerque Police Department is budgeted for 1,000 police officers but actually employs 836 with only 430 assigned to the field to take calls for service.
Money from the 150 + police officer vacancies has gone to pay police overtime and the Albuquerque Police Department busted its overtime budget by $4 million going from the $9 million budgeted to $13 million.
The 911 emergency dispatch center is in need of a $40 million-dollar upgrade.
The is also a need to acquire new police patrol vehicles to replace the aging portion of the fleet.
STATE AUDITOR TIM KELLER VS CANDIDATE AND ELECTED MAYOR TIM KELLER
Over a year ago on February 14, 2017 the mandatory state audit of the city was released by State Auditor Tim Keller, and he said Albuquerque needed to substantially increase funding for the risk management fund to $6.3 million a year to cover the shortfall.
“The city is basically spending more than it can afford for settlements for police shootings and civil rights violations. … That’s obviously a financial problem, which is why it shows up in our audit” Keller said at the time.
“In light of the city’s troubling trend of incurring more liabilities, it is appropriate and necessary for the city to better fund the (risk management fund),” Keller told the city.
The city budgeted from $2.1 million to $3.6 million a year to bolster the risk management fund in the past three years.
Now that Mr. Keller is Mayor, he is now facing the consequences of city lawsuits and settlements and spending beyond its means.
Tim Keller was swept into office in part by voter anger about rising crime rates and how bad things are in the City when it came to the police department.
On the campaign trail, Candidate Keller laid out his plans for APD and his determination to complete the Department of Justice (DOJ) reforms.
Keller made the campaign promise that he wanted to increase the number of sworn police officers from the current 850 to 1,200, or by 350 sworn police officers and return to community based policing.
Frankly getting to the 1,200 level of sworn officers is going to take years and probably will not be accomplished without a tax increase and that is a cold reality.
On the campaign trail, candidate Keller said he would raise taxes as a last resort for public safety but and only with voter approval.
Candidate Keller saying he would draw from various agencies, departments and programs where large, misappropriated budgets exist was a fantastic talking point that sounded good, but not very realistic after the 8 years of budget cuts and downsizing of government by his predicessor.
There is not much more that can be done to find money.
Issuing paper audits by State Auditor Tim Keller is a far cry from running a municipality that has no money by Mayor Tim Keller.
Now that we have Mayor Tim Keller, he is mum thus far on a tax increase and his spokesman says everything is on the table.
I am always disappointed when Mayors and City Councilors proclaim they will put increases in taxes on the ballot thereby trying to avoid the political “hot potato” and accusation that they increased taxes when they run for office again.
People have no business running for office if they do not want to make the hard decisions, especially when it comes to taxes and public safety and providing police services.
In any representative form of government such as our city government and our congress, people are elected to make the best decisions they can based on the facts and needs of their constituents.
Public safety and police services is one of the very few areas that elected officials should never resist increasing taxes when there is a crisis such as we have now in Albuquerque with our high crime rates.
On a federal level, our military defense is akin to police services on the local level, and you never see congress put to a public vote the pentagon budget.
Keller is quickly learning, albeit the hard way, there is a big difference between running for office, making a lot of promises that you may be unable to keep versus actually governing and making the decisions that have to be made that will most assuredly anger people.
One of those decisions that upsets voters is having to increase taxes.
As former Mayor David Rusk said “Taxes are the dues we pay to live in a civilized society.”
It is the City Council that has the authority to raise taxes, not the Mayor.
For those City Councilors who refuse to support a tax increase, Keller needs to remind them that they are the ones that have failed the public during the last eight years to fully address our public safety needs and allowing the destruction of APD.
Keller also needs to remind Republican City Councillors Don Harris and Brad Winter they are the ones who voted to spend the $69 million of Federal Transportation grant money that the City has yet to see a dime even though the construction on the project is complete and the bill must now be paid.
If Keller feels we need a public safety tax for police and the DOJ reforms, he should advocate its enactment by the City Council and not put it to a public vote.
It’s great being Mayor during good economic times and low crime rates, and miserable being Mayor during a bad economy and rising crime rates.
A Mayor making decisions with an eye towards future office or a legacy is a recipe for failure.
The ultimate question is will the City Council and the Mayor want to put the tax increase on the ballot for voter approval or show backbone and political courage and just enact a tax?